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Sanders vows to reform structural deficit, turn city into leader

A structural deficit that has taken “decades” to grow will be difficult to eliminate but San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders said Wednesday evening he’s going to take on the challenge.

In his fifth State of the City address — and with the general fund at its lowest level in four decades — Sanders said he would tackle the problems that have faced San Diego for years and bring forth reforms to its weakening bank account amid the world economic crisis, which eventually would put the city in a leading position.

“This structural deficit — the imbalance between the public’s expectations of their City and the revenues that sustain it — was allowed to grow for decades,” Sanders said. “The people of San Diego deserve better than that.”

Accompanied by elected officials from throughout the San Diego region, Sanders offered an address many touted as “positive,” while touching on the numerous issues that are facing the county’s largest city.

But Sanders gained much of the applause in his address when he promised San Diegans that he would bring forth a plan to tackle the structural deficit that has plagued the city for “decades” and would present that plan within the next 18 months. In December, the City Council adopted his 18-month budget plan to address a $179 million deficit.

The budget, which was adopted six months earlier than normal, included the elimination of 500 positions and cuts to numerous departments. Cuts were also made during the previous fiscal year, due to the recession.

“While other municipalities tiptoe toward cost-cutting, still hoping to be rescued by miracles that never arrive, we have reduced the cost of city government by tens of millions of dollars and cut our budgeted workforce by well over 1,000 positions,” Sanders said.

His hour-long address, and what some community leaders deem to be the most important thus far, also touched on his ideas to reform San Diego’s controversial pension system, infrastructure projects like the Civic Center and downtown library, the possibility of Chargers leaving the region and making the city a leader in clean technology.

Pleased with what he heard, San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce president Ruben Barrales said San Diegans are “lucky” to have Sanders.

“We are lucky to have Jerry Sanders as mayor of San Diego…especially in 2010,” he said. “He made a commitment to address the deficit within the next 18 months and emphasized that the new projects can be done at the same time the city address the fiscal issues.”

“He made it clear that we can walk and chew gum at the same time,” Barrales said.

Former San Diego council president Scott Peters also expressed his contentment with the mayor’s address - saying Sanders was realistic with the problems but that they can be solved.

Councilmember Carl DeMaio, who has been vocal in his disapproval of the city’s approach to finances, said he would take the mayor’s words “at face value” but noted certain pension reforms were available but have not been spoken of.

“It [State of the City address] was what I expected the mayor to highlight,” he said. “The mayor noted that the budget is not balanced and said he is committed to finding a long term reform. I’ll take it at face value.”

Sanders told San Diegans that it would be up to the public with the leadership of elected officials to choose the path the city should take.

“As our nation recovers from this brutal recession, some cities will lag behind and others will lead the way…the choice is ours.”

Hoa Quach is the political editor for the San Diego News Network.

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